Australia: New plan to address safety record in NSW construction industry

Last Updated: 5 September 2018
Article by Greg McCann and Kate Sullivan

In brief - Plan targets falls from heights, contact with electricity, interaction with plant, and falling objects as main priority areas

SafeWork NSW has launched a new work health and safety plan, the Building and Construction Work Health and Safety Sector Plan to 2022, to reduce deaths, injuries and illness rates in the NSW building and construction industry. PCBUs should review their safety management systems that cover the four main priority areas identified in the Plan.

Construction industry safety record - could it be better?

The construction industry is booming. A record $80.1 billion will be spent on NSW infrastructure over the next four years. Construction employment rates are also projected to grow by more than 13%, reaching a workforce of nearly 400,000 by 2022.

The safety statistics in the construction industry are informing. Over the three year period between 2013 to 2016, 35 workers lost their lives on NSW construction sites. A further 1,208 incidents resulted in permanent disabilities. During the same period, there were 25,600 claims over work-related injuries and deaths, costing the workers' compensation system approximately $520.5 million.

Government consultation with over 100 industry representatives has identified four main issues that impact on health and safety in the construction industry. These include:

  1. skills and resources shortages
  2. the diversity of the workforce
  3. tight profit margins and unrealistic time restraints, and
  4. complex work arrangements

What does the Plan hope to achieve?

The Plan will target four main priority areas with the objective of designing new interventions to improve safety outcomes:

  1. Falls from heights: are the leading cause of traumatic fatalities in the industry, accounting for 42 deaths between 2003 and 2013. The Plan aims to develop intervention initiatives that focus on identifying the leading causation of and contributing factors to falls.
  2. Contact with electricity: Electrocution is the second leading cause of fatalities, accounting for 20 deaths between 2003 and 2013. The objective is to collaborate with industry bodies to develop a strategic plan to reduce the number of deaths caused by electrocution.
  3. Interaction with plant: The Plan aims to address the safety risks mobile and fixed plant— including earth moving equipment, trucks and cranes—present to workers.
  4. Falling objects: The Plan aims to raise awareness and improve controls to better manage falling objects.

SafeWork NSW has announced that the Plan will be followed by four sub-sector plans. The sub-sector plans will specifically cover the infrastructure, mid/high rise buildings, housing and demolition sectors. The sub-sector plans will provide tailored initiatives to address the specific harms bespoke to the sub-sectors.

Will the Plan improve safety?

Whilst the Plan acknowledges key areas for improvement, there is little talk of how these improvements will be achieved in practice. It is still early days, and only time will tell whether the Plan will markedly improve the safety outcomes in the industry.

Greg McCann Kate Sullivan
Work health and safety
Colin Biggers & Paisley

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Authors
Greg McCann
Kate Sullivan
 
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